The Alnwick Garden, a new family play-world in Northumberland, England, is being boosted by a d&b Soundscape system, with its imaginary inhabitants realised by Soundscape’s spatial sound capabilities. Installed by Southby Productions, the system helps to bring the world’s magical inhabitants to life, via the work of award-winning theatre sound designer, Gareth Fry.
Ten years in the making, Lilidorei delivers an enchanted world inhabited by fabulous creatures – dwarves, trolls, fairies, hobgoblins, and more – all of them invisible, with the only clues to their existence provided by special effects and immersive audio.
The behind-the-scenes story of Lilidorei’s creation – the result of the vision of the remarkable Jane Percy, Her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland – is revealed by a six-part television documentary. The Duchess And Her Magical Kingdom begins on Channel 4 on 23 August.
“Sound was crucial in Lilidorei for several reasons,” said Her Grace. “Visitors had to understand the nature of the clans and their individual characteristics. I believed that sound would be what made people put their phones back in their pockets and use their imagination. And it’s worked! We’ve seen no children using their phones in Lilidorei since it has opened – result!”
The Duchess conceived Lilidorei as a challenge to our increasing obsession with hand-held devices. According to its storyline, play creates magic, which allows reindeer to fly, making Christmas itself possible. Because Christmas is a big deal in Lilidorei, it is a phone-free zone: a world designed to make us look away from our screens and focus on interaction and play.
Southby Productions became involved in the project in 2019, when the Duchess became aware of its expertise in immersive audio. After an in-person demonstration of Soundscape led by Southby’s Chris Jones, the Duchess and her team were convinced of its importance. Over the next three years, as the possibilities of immersive sound took shape, Southby worked with sound designer Gareth Fry to realise this multi-layered, imaginary world. Although familiar with immersive concepts, this was Fry’s first use of Soundscape. “My main learning curve was in how d&b have implemented those concepts in software,” he said.
To facilitate the process, Southby installed a mini-immersive 360-degree Soundscape studio in Fry’s home. Fry says, “This was invaluable for me to learn how to use Soundscape to its best. I mixed everything in Logic Pro, and used the Soundscape Audio Unit plug-in to remotely control and automate all of Soundscape’s parameters via OSC. Having everything programmed at home made the transition to site relatively painless.”
Individual soundtracks for each ‘clan’ were produced and then demo’d by Fry and the Southby team to the Duchess who, Fry says, had a very clear idea of how this world should sound. He said: “We started by developing how each type of creature might sound, then working out sequences of events that might happen in each clan, and finally working out how to spatialise that across the speakers in each of the 13 areas.”
Having the entire park covered directly by DS100 processing engines would have been prohibitively expensive, so the Soundscape output was copied to the individual Q-Sys systems controlling each zone’s playback. “You create the world in Soundscape, and then essentially ‘print’ the output of those speakers to multitracks which are played by Q-Sys,” Jones explained.
That playback comes from over 300 of d&b’s versatile xS Series loudspeakers (weather-resistant models) including 5S, 4S and the ultra-compact installation subwoofer, the Bi8. The whole system is powered by 82 of d&b’s new 4-channel install amplifier, the 5D.
“We’ve created a highly immersive environment in a very unusual way,” said Fry. “At Lilidorei, sound is at the heart of the experience, rather than being a tacked-on extra layer. It’s been great to see kids experiencing it, and reacting to all the various sounds we’ve created for this world, from the fun to the really quite dark!”